Review: Witt n’ Camp

4*
The Soho Theatre
This production has now closed.

Witt n’ Camp burst onto the stage in police uniform, making a little too much eye contact for comfort, and an hour of highly idiosyncratic comedy begins. The duo introduce us to a menagerie of characters, from battery hens bemoaning their dreary boyfriend to concert singers trapped in a souring partnership, all archly tongue in cheek.

The pair have strong chemistry with each other. It’s fantastic to see two uproariously funny women baring the full force of their personalities on stage (not to mention a fair amount of skin). They’re self-deprecating, lewd, and rarely more than five seconds from a smirk.

The real magic is how they invite us along with them. The Soho Theatre’s intimate stage leaves little room where a fourth wall can sit, and Witt n’ Camp take as much glee in crossing it as they do in crossing any other boundary. They hand a musical triangle to an audience member and instruct her to ding it at various points, weaving her name into their songs, and very few in the front row escape their seductive attentions.

The musical comedy is impressive, with perfect physical timing working alongside original songs and a well-curated soundtrack. Props and costumes are used well; a personal favourite is the box of eggs that’s used to unexpectedly steer the show into sly pro-choice satire.

As we move between scenes it’s not always clear what’s tying them together. It feels like a sketch show to start with, but as the separate stories develop the pair allow the boundaries to blur. At times this leaves us struggling to keep track of what we’re watching, but they quickly pull us back in with a joke.

As the show draws to a frenetic close, Witt n’ Camp are still full of the same boundless energy: hilarious, sexy and gloriously fun.

Follow Witt n’ Camp on Twitter for details of upcoming performances.

© A. Lewis 2018

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Review: Cadets

4*
By Dani Kolanis, at Camden People’s Theatre
(This production has now closed)

Dani Kolanis is a powerhouse of charisma and talent in this one-person comedic rollercoaster. Set in the world of borough cadets – yup, each London borough trains up its very own elite force of ‘youths’. Thing is Camden Cadets aren’t doing too well and keep losing the annual cadet competition – think assault courses, team building exercises and general mayhem. So the pressure’s on this year, 2010, and if they place last the Camden Cadets will be cut and they might just have to join Islington instead, ugh.

It’s a simple premise and makes for some great comedic scenes such as the bus journey out of London and into the Essex countryside where there are lots of trees. Then there are the cadet challenges like hauling a giant log through a wood, only the Camden crew end up dropping it onto a house. Meanwhile, Kolanis gets great use out of a single chair as it becomes a precarious DIY raft of barrels and rope that might or might not make it to the other side of the river. With simple changes in tone, posture and facial expression Kolanis blasts her way through a large ensemble of characters including the shouty cadet leader Staff Joe; a big, bald white mayor and the (in)famous Camden five themselves. I especially loved the flashback to a house party and despite there only being one person on stage I felt like I was there as a bunch of teens got wasted and someone stuck her fingers down her friend’s throat to help her puke. There were some darker jokes that played on homophobia and one about the exploded remains of a child that jarred tonally with the rest of the piece and I felt needed better nuancing to work.

There was also a deeper more poignant back-story as to why the protagonist and narrator Gabby sneaks into her school to cook eggs and why she avoids her Dad, and there was a great moment of vulnerability with a fellow cadet as they bond over similar experiences. Hopefully one day Kolanis will go deeper into these stories, using her already honed wit and flair for comedy. Watch this space.

Follow Dani on Twitter for info on upcoming performances.

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Interview: JD

Nikki and JD are an acrobatic duo, merging contemporary dance and circus.  Their latest show Knot is touring the UK over the next few weeks. LGBTQ Arts’ Amie Taylor caught up with JD to find out more about this piece and their work.

AT: Tell us a bit about you, how you came to be a circus artist…

JD: So I actually started by studying literature, and I moved to England for my final year of studying at UCL, in London. When I finished I didn’t really know what to do, so I did some acrobatics at the Roundhouse and I got quite in to it, and then ended up doing the opening of  Circolumbia , where young people do the opening of their show.  So after that I applied to circus school. 

And Nikki was a gymnast when she was a kid, but ended up doing anthropology, and then worked as a fundraiser for many years, but 6 years ago decided to quit her job and become a circus performer. So we both came from more academic backgrounds.

AT: Your next show Knot is touring this month, tell us a little bit about it…

JD: It’s about relationships in any way or form and it’s our story as performers working together. The show came about because we always found when you do cabaret, people want to see star-crossed lovers having difficulties and then they get together; being a gay man I was a bit adversed to the idea of being this heterosexual couple on stage. So I wanted to make something true to me. But working with a woman on stage, you can’t get away without people reading in to what you’re doing.

AT: And what inspired you to make it?

JD: So one day we did a cabaret and the compere told us that we had to spend the show trying to find each other and then at the end we’d kiss and he would come onstage and marry us. And we said okay, but when we got to the end I recoiled from the kiss, I didn’t want to go through with it. But we thought there was a story in that. So we start the show with this idea, and we make it sound like we’re a couple for the beginning of the show and talking about our story, until I come out, and then it becomes more about the uniqueness of this relationship and we talk about the reality of it. 

AT: Why does this feel relevant for 2019?

JD: Our society has the idea that a ‘normal’ relationship is a man and a woman, but we want to say it’s okay and that there are other ways of being.  There’s a bit more space for freedom and exploring what relationships are. 

AT: What do you hope the audience will take away from watching?

JD: I guess what we’re really trying to do with this show is to bring people on a journey with us.  We discovered each other through this show – I think people often question if the story is true, and then they thank us for sharing. I like having that connection with the audience.  And it’s a story about real people, so the audience get to see some of their life in it too. 

AT: You mentioned earlier that you’re in Helsinki working on your next piece – what is that piece all about?

JD: It’s evolving every day, but the next piece is again about keeping true to the circus and true to us; we’re exploring control and fear, circus is this idea that you scare the audience but in a very controlled way,. Everyone is very comfortable with being scared. Playing with the control of what scares them and how much can we play with the audience and each other. It’s still quite vague, but that’s where we’re heading. 

The Marlowe Studio, Canterbury. May 16, 2019
Artsdepot, London, May 23, 2019
Dance City, Newcastle, Jun 6, 2019
Lakeside Arts Nottingham, Jun 11, 2019

Book to see Knot.

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Image © Laurent Cahu

Review: Boom-Bang-a-Bang

4*
At Above The Stag (Studio Theatre), London until 9th June

Above the Stag theatre is known as the UK’s only professional, full-time LGBT Theatre.  Working as a charity, they invest every penny into the theatre.  The theatre bar is a spacious area, and, lo and behold, a fabulous universal loo was on offer.  7 cubicles (with doors that open outward for ease of use) placed around a circular sink shared happily by all.  A side room off that contains a urinal for a speedier wee if you prefer.  Nice and neat, clean and widely accessible, most venues could take a leaf from their book…or indeed their toilet paper…

‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ was written by Jonathan Harvey (now surely bordering on ‘National Treasure’ territory) in the mid-90s, first performed at the Bush Theatre in 1995.  Lee (skilfully played by the immediately likeable Adam McCoy) is desperate to enjoy his first Eurovision after the death of his beloved partner from a brain tumour.  The fact that most people thought it was a cover up for him ‘actually dying of AIDS’ creates a sharp and painful conflict that jars the soul.  

Andrew Beckett’s set creates a mid-90s ‘des-res’ in a beautifully immersive use of the space; the audience is confronted by a pair of trainers and an ironing board that have seen better days upon entering, as if we are also invited to the hallowed ‘gay christmas’ of Lee’s Eurovision Party.  There is nostalgia here if you want it, the vhs tapes, cassettes and lack of mobile phones remind us that it was a very different time, but the themes and characters are still very much the people living next door to you today.

Eurovision fans will love the references galore to previous entries, and we can only wonder what the characters from 90s London would make of modern Europe, Eurovision and ‘the B word”. Comedy is in every breath, almost a laugh on every line; but everyone’s personal tragedy and sadness is only seconds away from overwhelming them.  Love could do with shining more of a light on this particular north London abode.

The pace is swift and enjoyable, with a strong ensemble feel.  Joshua Coley as Norman (the neighbour you love-to-avoid) delivers a comedy tour-de-force, you can hear the giggles as soon as his feet hit the stage.

Tori Hargreaves and Florence Odumosu (Wendy and Tania respectively) hide their pain in plain sight, fuelling each others destructiveness, in pitch-perfect performances that conveyed messages that lingered long in my mind.  Homophobia (both internalised and externalised), lesbophobia and misogyny remind us sharply of the futility of inter-LGBT bigotry and aggression, when really we are the most natural of allies.  Set up against each other by the world at large, we bring the ‘enemy into the room’, when in reality it’s outside and ought to stay there.  ‘Steph’ (a confident creation of Christopher Lane’s) left one audience member musing ‘he makes you wonder how you’ll end up…’.  We can only hope that we will all end up rising like a phoenix from the ashes…

For anyone who want’s  “All Kinds of Everything”, for anyone who likes “Only Teardrops” with their comedy, ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ will deliver, and you’ll be humming Eurovision tunes on the way home whether you like it or not!

Book Now

© Jezza Donovan 2019

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Review: Hotter

4*
The Soho Theatre, London until 15th June

Hotter is one sweaty, dizzy, breathless night at the theatre. Those awkward topics you would think twice about airing at dinner? Hold onto your seat, because Ell Potter and Mary Higgins are going there.

Indeed, the self-proclaimed ‘verbatim dance party’ is an energetic observation of what itmeans to be female and feminine in this day and age. Through characterised lipsyncs set to the audio of interviews, raucous dance routines and perfectly harmonized song, the two players confront numerous issues – body image and self-esteem, the influence of marketing and pop culture on the female mind, gender performativity, queerness, mental health and, of course, sex.

Potter and Higgins lead the show together, neither overtaking the other or stealing the spotlight. It is collaboration onstage at its best. Even if a line is flubbed, or a performer too breathless to continue, they laugh it off with good humour and throw in a blinding witticism that sends the crowd into hysterics. The show feels partly like a stand up show, with the performers talking to us casually and honestly throughout, which makes for a breath of fresh air. It also allows their words to be honest and vulnerable, particularly as the two explore their relationship.

“I didn’t want to be gay,” Potter tells us – and Higgins – at one point. The line cuts deep, a heavy echo of sentiment for anyone who has struggled with accepting their queer identity. The actors, carefully guided by director Jessica Edwards, procure a charm and delicacy in their performances that makes us want to keep listening.

The design is admittedly simple, but it works for the show. The glamorous, neon rave costumes are eerily reminiscent of Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone, delightfully tacky and glamorous in equal measure. The audio interviews are immersive, funny and genuinely interesting. The women speak frankly and aren’t afraid to diverge from the play’s subject matter, with one older lady stating (to paraphrase): “There’s an obsession with the flesh… I don’t find it very interesting.” As the actors’ confessions and dialogue becomes increasingly intimate, they strip down, an apt symbolic gesture.

In the end, Hotter is not just a hell of a party – it’s an honest, reflective love letter written by the performers for themselves and the women in their lives. So race for your ticket, and dress lightly on the night – it’s going to get hot!

Book Now

© Killian Glynn 2018

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Interview: Misha Butler

The Amber Trap is currently running at Theatre 503 and centres around the story of Katy and her girlfriend Hope who work in the local corner shop. Misha Butler plays Michael, who arrives also to work at the corner shop and causes tensions to rise. LGBTQ Arts’ Amie Taylor caught up with Misha via a Q and A.

AT. Tell us a little about your journey into becoming an actor…

MB: I really fell into acting as a career, to be honest. I desperately wanted to do it from a very young age but I never really saw it as a potential for me as a young trans guy. Unlike now, there didn’t seem to be any people like me on screen or stage. I half-heartedly signed up to the TransActing course run by Gendered Intelligence and Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, not expecting much more than a few classes and a few new friends, and through it I got an audition for BBC Casualty and through that I got an agent. It was all a bit of a whirlwind!

AT: You’re currently rehearsing for The Amber Trap, can you tell us a little about this piece and it’s themes?

MB: The Amber Trap explores a wide range of themes that I think different people will respond differently to. For me, the play focuses on relationships, and the societal gendered expectations that go with them, as well as themes like family (in varied forms), love and identity.

AT: Why is it an important project for you?

MB: I’ve just fallen in love with the complexity of all the characters involved because they have such rich personalities that I think it makes the story itself fascinating.

AT: And why do you think this piece is important for 2019?

MB: I think that the fact that the show centres around the complex and authentic relationship between two women but also manages to make that not the primary element really shows how queer theatre should be written. Their relationship isn’t incidental to the plot, the difficulties of being in a queer relationship that persist in 2019 haven’t been overlooked, but Katie and Hope have such rich identities outside of being in love with each other. That’s what I think many of these sorts of stories lack and it is refreshing to see it.

AT: What do you think audiences will take away from watching this piece?

MB: I honestly can’t say! I think there are so many different elements that will affect each person quite differently. I do think it will provoke strong empathy and emotion for the characters but also ethical discussion.

AT: What have been the highlights of the rehearsal process?

MB: I don’t think I can pick a specific moment! The whole process so far has been so exciting and fascinating, and all the team are so incredibly lovely, supportive and enthusiastic about the show.

AT: Have there been any challenges?

MB: The biggest challenge for me has been switching off when going home after rehearsals. It’s such an emotionally charged piece that I find myself carrying some of that with me and have had to work to leave it in the room.

AT: How do you feel this piece sits within the landscape of LGBT+ Theatre? (Ie is it telling us a story we haven’t heard before? Or representing a voice lesser heard?)

MB: I feel that the representation of lesbian relationships on stage is lacking compared to gay male storylines, which makes The Amber Trap all the more important. It really is quite a unique play in terms of its storyline and content.

The Amber Trap runs at Theatre 503, London until 18th May. Book Now.

Misha Butler

Photo © Olivia-Rose Smith

 

Review: The Amber Trap

4*

Written by Tabitha Mortiboy
Directed by Hannah Hauer-King
Runs at Theatre503 (London) until 18th May

Mortiboy’s one act four-hander starts simply enough. Young couple Katie and Hope work in their local corner shop, teasing their frazzled but good-natured boss Jo and passing time. The rhythm of days is marked by a tiny radio on the counter and the ease between the three women and their natural banter is entertaining enough, if not groundbreaking. The equilibrium of the little shop is thrown off though by newcomer – teenage Michael, on his gap year. Michael is precocious and socially awkward and immediately takes a shine to Katie who, although she tells him ‘no’ clearly enough, is so careful to appease him, and so wary of backlash, that she neglects, time and again, to make clear that she and Hope are a couple.

Olivia Rose Smith as Katie really carries the play – genuinely sweet and affectionate and funny, but always struggling with her fear of being objectionable and her socially-ingrained need to mollify men – while Misha Butler as Michael is suitably sinister as the awkward geek who reveals the toxic underbelly of male entitlement as the plot unfolds. His desperation to impress Katie and to claim her sours into a simmering resentment that he is having to ‘wait’ for her affection. It’s a story we’re all too familiar with but that doesn’t make the inevitable crescendo any less compelling.

Underexplored is the subplot of Hope’s disappointment as Katie persistently refuses to acknowledge their relationship, beyond the confidence of kindly Jo and the safety of their shop walls. Her conflicting feelings about whether she chooses to ‘let down’ her partner or her conservative family leave Katie isolated as Michael’s behaviour becomes increasingly intimidating and unbalanced.

In part gentle character study and in part an exposé of the ubiquity of straight white male entitlement, the play has a lot to offer; all it really lacked was a scene between Hope and Jo where they could both explain how they felt about Katie and her reticence. A little slow in places and perhaps lacking the resolution we may have wanted, it is nonetheless an absorbing 80 minutes with an excellent cast and a natural, witty script that builds to a tense climax. Many of us, especially from small towns, will have felt the parallel frustrations Katie and Hope feel about being out, and defying male desire, and that emotional honesty shines through the play.

Book Now.

© Sophie London 2019

 

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